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Gathering Again - This Time for a Funeral

August 13, 2009 By:
Aaron Passman, Staff Writer
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Daniel Altman

For decades, relatives and friends of the Altman family have been crowding into Temple Sinai in Dresher to celebrate weddings, Bar Mitzvahs and much more. But on Friday they came to mourn three members of the same family, the local victims of the Aug. 8 mid-air collision over the Hudson River in New York.

The tragedy killed Douglas Altman and his father, Daniel, 49, of Dresher; as well as Daniel's brother, Steven Altman, 60, of Ambler, who was piloting the plane. Five Italian tourists and a helicopter pilot were also killed in the crash.

The synagogue's Rabbi Adam Wohlberg described the congregational mood as "overcome by feelings of grief and anger and helplessness" at the loss of so many members of a family that he called "precious beyond measure to our synagogue."

More than 500 people crowded into Temple Sinai for the service, quickly occupying every available seat and most of the standing space. The service was held at the same synagogue where Steven and Pamela Altman were married 34 years ago and Doug became a Bar Mitzvah two years ago.

The three were eulogized by a number of friends and family, most poignantly in remarks by Steven Altman's three children Ben, Abby and Laura; as well as Max Altman, the 17-year-old son of Daniel Altman and brother of Doug.

The two Altman brothers were 11 years apart in age -- Steven the eldest child and Daniel the youngest -- and many remarked that while Steven was "book smart," Daniel was "street smart" -- a combination that worked well together in the real estate business they ran. Altman Management Company was started more than 50 years ago by their father, David Altman, 87.

Steven Altman's daughter Abby -- who was married two weeks before his death -- offered memories of working on homework with her dad as he alternated between helping her and her siblings and answering trivia questions while Jeopardy played on television in the background. She said he tutored them in all subjects, but especially math, and often waited for him to grow frustrated enough to just offer to do the homework himself -- which he often did.

His daughter Laura emphasized his generosity, noting that when on a recent trip to Belize, their tour guide expressed interest in some books, weeks later she learned that her father had sent a large shipment of books overseas for that guide.

Steven Altman's three children remained on the bimah while Max Altman offered words for his father, Daniel, and brother, Doug, whom he said would "always be my little brother and my best friend."

Before all four embraced, Max Altman thanked the rescue workers who, as he said, "worked tirelessly to bring my family home."

It had taken nearly a week after the incident to recover all the bodies.

For the teenage peers of Doug, the youngest victim, it was an emotionally difficult way to reconnect as they neared the end of their summer break. Altman would have been a sophomore at Upper Dublin High School and a member of the upcoming confirmation class at Temple Sinai.

Jake Lokoff, 15, said that he first came to know Altman and his family more than a decade ago as a pre-schooler at Temple Sinai. The two fell out of touch with one another, rekindling their friendship two years ago at school.

"He complemented everyone else nicely," said Lokoff. Altman had a way about him that made everyone comfortable with him, always "altering his personality" to fit any situation, said Lokoff.

Part of what brought the two together again, he said, was playing on the school's tennis team.

"No matter how much he was hurt, he played hard, and he wanted to win both for himself and for the team," said Lokoff.

"The only thing bad about Doug was his ankles," 15-year-old Jared Zarwin recalled, pointing out that Altman -- who was an avid golfer in addition to his tennis -- injured his ankles "at least four times" in his athletic pursuits.

While the two became friends through school and sports, they also communed Jewishly. Zarwin recalled Altman's Bar Mitzvah two years ago as "the best Bar Mitzvah I've ever been to."

Zarwin and another classmate, Sean McAneney, also 15, remembered the goofy way Altman had danced, as well as the mock rap about his life and friends that he had performed at his Bar Mitzvah party .

"Doug's so white, and he can't rap," said McAneney.

Upper Dublin classmate Pete Vernacchio, 15, said that Doug's friends were searching for a way to commemorate their friend, including possibly selling some sort of bracelet in Doug's honor and donating the money to charity.

Following the service, Daniel and Douglas Altman were interred at Roosevelt Memorial Park, followed by Steven Altman's interment at Shalom Memorial Park.

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